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“His presence has a huge impact on the game every time he steps on to the field. Afghanistan might not play Test matches as regularly as some other nations do, but every time he does, he will be challenged and he will have to remain patient”

What’s common between Shane Warne and Rashid Khan? Both of them had horrifying Test debuts, conceding in excess of 150 runs and were barely effective. Warne returned with figures of 1 for 150 while Rashid finished with figures of 2 for 154. The control was missing as was the zip.

However, there’s a massive difference. When Warne made his Test debut, he was a rather unknown commodity and he wasn’t known by a lot of people around the world. But when Rashid Khan made his Test debut, all eyes were pinned on how he fares with the red-ball. He was already a master with the white-ball, bowling in the shorter formats. The question was whether he can translate that form and success into the longer version of the game, with a different ball? Can he adapt to the challenges with the red-ball? Could he remain patient when things didn’t go his way?

A certain Muttiah Muralitharan who has worked with him for a couple of years certainly thought so. In fact, the little sample size of four first-class games also indicated that he could. However, the debut went opposite to as predicted. The Indian batsmen milked him with ease and he was hardly a threat. The red-ball Rashid Khan looked a pale shadow of the white-ball Rashid Khan. Afghanistan lost their maiden Test match inside two days and the star leg-spinner was one of the biggest disappointments of the game.

Also read:  I’m not a mystery spinner, I’m here for my hard work, says Rashid Khan

However, Afghanistan didn’t play any Test matches (before this one against Ireland) and Rashid went back to being the white-ball beast he is. He dominated whatever cricket he played all around the globe. Batsmen around the world are wary of the Rashid Khan threat. They hardly go after the 20-year-old leggie who foxes the batsmen beautifully yet brutally. Hence, batsmen try to play him out and target the other bowlers.

Then came the Ireland series where once again the question arose, can Rashid Khan transform that white-ball form? Can he adapt, adjust and be patient and consistent? In the leadup to this Test match, he once again took loads of wickets in the limited-overs fixtures. But he was wary of how harsh the reality of Test cricket could be, as he found out on his Test debut.

Rashid Khan is a big match player and a critical component of any Afghanistan team. He knew that and he stepped up. Yes, the 20-year-old superstar hasn’t bowled as well as he would’ve liked or a lot of them expected him to. However, he has had a big impact on this Test match and has driven Afghanistan into a position of strength.

In the first innings, he made an impact as soon as he got the ball in his hand. In his very first over, in fact, his first three deliveries, he had two wickets which left Ireland reeling very early in the Test match. Rashid picked up the wickets of James McCollum and Stuart Poynter in the space of three balls. But he struggled for consistency throughout the innings as he failed to pick another wicket.

One of the major reasons for his inconsistency was his tapped middle-finger on his right hand. He had taken a blow while batting in one of the practice sessions. But despite struggling for consistency, he kept the runs down and tied up one end.

In the second essay, once again the consistency wasn’t there. He was good but only in patches. He troubled the batsmen as they did look a tad unsure of which way the ball was turning. However, the batsmen also looked comfortable at times. Rashid troubled McCollum throughout his stay and eventually, brought an end to his stoic innings as he trapped the debutant in front. A couple of overs later, he dismissed Stuart Thompson to enter the Ireland lower-order.

When Rashid returned after Tea, he completely changed the complexion of the game. In three successive overs, he had George Dockrell, Kevin O’Brien and Andy McBrine walk back to the pavilion. The 20-year-old turned the game on its head. Ireland were in a good position with Dockrell and O’Brien going well and looking to build the lead. However, Rashid’s one spell spelt doom for the Irishmen.

The last wicket partnership dragged the innings and took Ireland to a lead where they could fight and play around with. But Rashid Khan’s 5 for 82 eventually broke the back and dented the Irish side.

He became the first-ever Afghanistan bowler to take a five-wicket haul. He also became just the ninth bowler to take a fifer in all three formats and is the youngest to do so. The white-ball master beast had delivered with the red ball. He had turned around a Test match just like he does in the shorter formats. Rashid has put Afghanistan ahead and made them favourites to win their first-ever Test match.

This superstar leg-spinner has been one of the reasons for Afghanistan cricket’s rise in the last few years. The 2015 World Cup was a landmark one for the Afghans as they not only made their debut but also registered their maiden World Cup win. However, back then, Rashid Khan was nowhere around in the picture. Four years down the line, he is everything to them.

His presence has a huge impact on the game every time he steps on to the field. Afghanistan might not play Test matches as regularly as some other nations do, but every time he does, he will be challenged and he will have to remain patient. But he has shown that he can adapt and can still be a threat. And the white-ball beast will have to keep evolving and transforming himself to deliver with the red cherry.

 

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